Growth Mindset: The New Hallmark of Authentic Montessori Programs

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Growth Mindset: The New Hallmark of Authentic Montessori Vanessa Callaghan Education 6210: Analysis of Contemporary Issues in Education and Montessori Submitted to: Sandra Wyner Andrew Advanced Montessori Programs St. Catherine University September 14, 2014

2 When anyone can hang ‘Montessori’ on their door (Blessington, 2004), what makes one program authentic and another just a shadow of the original? “There is no central authority that licenses a school as a Montessori program, although there are several professional associations to which a school might voluntarily belong, and from which accreditation can be sought” (Seldin, 2006, Paragraph 1). Richard Ungerer (2014), the executive director of one such association, the American Montessori Society (AMS), writes a lengthy list of essential elements, including “mixed-age groupings that foster peer learning…a full array of developmentally appropriate Montessori learning materials…[and] teachers who serve as guides” (p. 3). Ungerer acknowledges that his list is a work in progress and urges the Montessori community to identify and rigorously discuss what makes a quality Montessori program. An analysis of Montessori’s early work reveals a crucial point: she believed that humans have the potential to grow and develop. In order to be authentic to Montessori’s original approach to children, Montessori programs must also embody and cultivate a growth-oriented mindset. In the late 1890’s, Maria Montessori worked with “defective” children who were “classed together with the insane” (Standing, 1957, p.28). The children’s caretaker criticized their foodplaying habits, but Montessori recognized their basic need to learn and understand with their hands. Seeing the children’s potential for growth and change, she placed them in an educational setting and adapted the surroundings to their needs (Standing, 1957). Borrowing a term from the work of Stanford researcher Carol Dweck (2006), Montessori’s attitude towards her first pupils could be called a growth mindset. Growth-minded individuals believe that “although people may differ in every which way––in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments–– everyone can change and grow with application and experience” (Dweck, 2006, p.7). Mindset matters. In one study, researchers gave students a set of 10 perceptual problems

3 GROWTH MINDSET of moderate difficulty, followed by either intelligence praise; “You must be smart at these problems!” or effort (growth mindset) praise; “You must have worked hard at these problems!” (Mueller & Dweck, 1998, p. 36) After a very difficult test, the children took an easier test similar to the first. Those children praised for effort scored higher on the retest while the scores of students praised for intelligence dropped. When in a growth mindset, students were more likely to focus on learning goals, stay motivated after setbacks, see challenges as learning opportunities, and blame a lack of effort for their mistakes over lack of ability (Mueller & Dweck, 1998). Growth mindset aligns with the top priority of an authentic Montessori education––to develop “autonomous, joyful, lifelong learners” (Powell, 2009, p. 26). Authentic Montessori schools that offer multi-age programs have the potential to create communities of collaborative growth-oriented peers. Possessing widely differing abilities, the multi-age group embodies the continuum of learning. Students look to their peers as examples of what lies ahead and behind. According to AMS (1990s), multi-age classrooms are ideal in their “diversity, flexibility, and reduced competition.” Children play different roles–– “the awestruck follower…the observant and sometimes overconfident apprentice…[and] the experienced and nurturing leader” (Powell, 2009, p. 23). While there are those who propose a two-year grade structure in elementary (Monson, 2006), I have found that the classic three-year age group is essential; it makes concrete the dignity and value of each role and stage of growth. Authentic Montessori materials can develop a growth mindset in many ways. They have a built-in control of error that leads to self-correction and offer direct, non-judgmental feedback. They also support the unique characteristics of the developmental period of the students. For example, while Montessori elementary programs may include some workbooks, Sharon Caldwell (2007) concludes that they deny the children the opportunity to move in ways that are essential to

4 the preschool-aged child. Students influence the course of their education by choosing from materials designed with a specific developmental aim in mind. Materials are arranged on shelves in sequential order, offering a physical representation of the continuum of growth and change; students see what they have mastered, what they are practicing, and what they have yet to learn. An authentic Montessori classroom changes as the students grow and change. It contains furniture of developmentally appropriate size, and “a lovely and extensive collection of learning materials that match the developmental capabilities, interests, and needs of the children enrolled in each class” (Rambush, 2008, p. 248). In my lower elementary classroom, I add or remove materials, individual tables, group tables, plants, animals, etc., depending on my group’s needs. In authentic Montessori programs, teachers carefully observe how the children interact with the prepared environment and work tirelessly to transform the classroom into an optimal place for growth. Authentic Montessori programs are child-driven and offer whole-child feedback. “We not only need to be aware of academic progress, but also aware of emotional development, problem-solving skills, moral values, and social skills” (Abraham, 2012, p. 23). Using portfolios and student-generated rubrics, older students reflect on what they have mastered, what they are still practicing, and what they will learn (Buchhuber, 2010). Students experience continuous progress when they work with appropriately challenging materials. “Baby steps lead to giant leaps” (Buchhuber, 2010, p. 5) when the curriculum is differentiated so that children work at their own pace. Teachers “honor the different rhythm of the child’s life” (Pickering, 2012, p. 9) by maintaining an uninterrupted work period. These practices reinforce that an individual’s potential can develop with passion, effort, and training (Dweck, 2006). As discussed above, adults have the power to create a social and emotional environment

5 GROWTH MINDSET where growth mindset can thrive. Huxel (2013) urges Montessori teachers to adopt a growth mindset themselves; “like the children, we are in process, we are never finished, we are constantly in a state of learning” (p. 34). In The Absorbent Mind, Montessori (1995) insists that adults engage in “a study of one's self” which “includes the training of character; it is a preparation of the spirit" (p. 131). AMS (1990s) supports the growth of the teachers by emphasizing the credentialing process, professional development, consultation, and parent education. In my experience, authentic Montessori teachers share their personal growth goals and use growth-oriented language. In my classroom, the children create classroom agreements that they believe best promote learning and growth, they practice acknowledging the efforts of others, and we all refer to our sign that reads, “We are a community of friends learning and growing together.” In authentic Montessori programs, new content is presented in a cosmic and developmental context. Lessons cover what students know, are currently learning, will learn, and why the content is relevant in the greater cosmic picture. For example, social science begins with the diverse ways people adapt to meet universal human needs within the context of their particular biome and culture. Learning moves both backwards and forwards, layering the content; “the child begins to realize that knowing one thing well leads invariably to insights into related disciplines” (Buchhuber, 2010, p. 6). In this view, nothing is static, and everything and everyone is a part of the greater ever-changing cosmic dance. Maria Montessori’s orientation towards growth and development in her early work laid the foundation for a groundbreaking growth-oriented pedagogy. High-quality programs embody and cultivate a growth mindset in their school community with the goal of developing lifelong learners who “take their place in their communities, when the time comes, as responsible,

6 contributing adults” (Lillard, 1996, p. xxi). If Montessori programs are to be authentic, they must embody this belief and look beyond the individual learner to see the greater potential of children; “the child is capable of developing and giving us tangible proof of the possibility of a better humanity” (Montessori, 1992, p. 31).

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7 GROWTH MINDSET school. Montessori Life, 18(2), 36-43. Montessori, Maria (1992). Education and peace. Oxford, UK: Clio Press. Montessori, Maria (1995). The absorbent mind. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, LLC. Mueller, C. M., & Dweck, C. S. (1998). Praise for intelligence can undermine children’s motivation and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(1), 33-52. Pickering, Ann. (2012). The importance of uninterrupted time. Montessori Voices, 68, 9-13. Powell, Mark. (2009, April). Is Montessori ready for the Obama generation? Montessori Life, 21(2), 18. Rambusch, N. M. & Stoops, J. A. (2002). Finding the right school. In Epstein, P. & Seldin, T. (2003), The Montessori way: An education for life, (pp. 247-251). Sarasota, FL: The Montessori Foundation. Seldin, Tim, Ed. (2006, September 19). Finding an authentic Montessori school. Retrieved from: option=com_content&view=article&id=265:finding-an-authen Standing, E. M. (1957) Maria Montessori, her life and work. New York, NY: Penguin Group. Ungerer, R. A. (2014). What is Montessori education, and who defines it? Montessori Life, 26(1), 3.